The death whistle.

There are a number of tendencies in society as I know it that I attempt to individually overcome on a daily basis. As the top predator in the food chain, we don’t look up. I try to find whatever I can above me: tree branches, clouds, stars, and endless white ceiling tiles. As humans we neglect various senses at various times. Our offices, hospitals, and museums are typically wastelands of soundless air (or worse, echoing with sounds of elevator music, bad radio, and improper and impolite phone use). We rarely smell or touch anything. I’m not advising anyone to rub money and then lick their hands, but still, there’s something we’re missing by not really touching the world around us. I like to walk through the library and let my fingertips skim across the bindings of old books. I like to pat the bark of trees as I pass. I tear off leaves and smell them. I bend over flowers to chance a whiff. We need this. In our daily lives we allow ourselves to go without it.

This desolation of the senses is not true of all cultures, however.  The minstrels of the Middle Ages were post officers, newscasters, entertainers, and societal commentators all through sound.  Priests and monks from a variety of religions use scent to make a space sacred to this day.  The blind in China are often trained as masseuses and masseurs to take advantage of their heightened fingertip sensitivity.  Finally, new research is hinting that the Aztecs, the Maya, and other people in that region may have used a variety of whistles and sound instruments to accent daily life.  While I am quick to discount suggestions of certain sounds numbing people to stupor to help with healing, time and further research could easily prove me wrong.  Even more intriguing is the idea of the death whistle, a whistle that may have been blown by sacrificial victims as they were put to the knife and may have been heard by invading Spaniards. It sends a delicious tingle down the spine, doesn’t it?  After all, like the banshee of Ireland, death should be embodied by a shrill note, a rending of soul from this world to the next.  The idea of a little flute that can audibly symbolize that feeling of loss – who wouldn’t find it powerful, even in our sound-deficient times?

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